Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs) are big business. They also seem to be becoming increasingly popular. Over the time I have been doing this work, I have noticed the reduced availability of Basal Body Temperature (BBT) thermometers compared to OPKS in pharmacies. I can barely ever find a BBT thermometer anymore. Why is that I wonder? Cynical me would say that OPKs earn the supplier a lot more, as each can only be used once and therefore they must be bought repeatedly, whereas a thermometer need only be purchased once.
I encourage my clients to stop relying on an often unpredictable and unreliable kit to tell them what is going on with their body and instead listen to what it is telling them! Mother Nature has given us all the tools we need to determine our fertile time but the majority of women have lost sight of this and are entirely out of touch with their own body. I think this is really sad. For this reason, I educate women on natural fertility awareness techniques, which are simple, totally free and easy to fit in to your life. No peeing on sticks required!
I must point out that it is of course entirely your choice which methods you choose to use and not use and I will always respect these decisions. I feel compelled to write this simply because of the stress I witness amongst ladies who become obsessive or confused by their OPKs results.
I’m going to talk a little bit about OPKs and share some facts that you may not be aware of.
What are OPKs used for?
OPKs are used primarily by women who are trying to conceive, as they are designed to recognise the optimum time for conception, rather than for monitoring hormones throughout the cycle.
How do they work?
OPKs detect changes in luteinising hormone (LH), which is usually released 24-36 hours before ovulation (release of an egg) occurs. While there are some benefits, there are many drawbacks that women don’t know about:
1. You have to know the length of your cycle, at least roughly, in order to know when to start testing.
2. The OPKs do not detect the presence, absence or quality of cervical mucus, which is very important for all sorts of reasons. You may be having hormone surges, smiley faces and releasing eggs but if your cervical mucus is ‘hostile’ to sperm, it will be very difficult to conceive.
3. They are expensive! Especially when used over a few months.
4. Older women or those close to the menopause often have consistently high levels of LH, as their bodies ‘try’ to release an egg. In this case, the OPK would be no good.
5. Conditions of hormonal imbalance such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome may disrupt the results.
6. The important one: OPKs cannot be used for detecting ovulation! They detect the surge in LH that occurs BEFORE ovulation but they do not confirm ovulation itself. In some women, they will get a surge in LH but the egg will not be released from the follicle (for various reasons). So in this case, the lady would see the OPK surge and then wonder why she didn’t fall pregnant when having intercourse at the appropriate time.
In other cases the surge may happen more than once in a cycle, confusing the lady that she has ovulated twice a few days apart (which is incredibly rare). I have seen this so many times among my clients who are adamant that they have ovulated twice that month according to their OPK, only for us to confirm later that this was not the case. BBT and cervical mucus charting would have highlighted this.
In conclusion, for some women OPKs can be a very useful tool to help them identify their most fertile time when trying to conceive. If you want to, give them a go and see how you find them. But I would strongly recommend you also follow the rules of Basal Body Temperature and Cervical Mucus charting. If nothing else, charting your cycle can help you to gain a greater understanding of your body, which many women find enlightening. Plus, it’s free!